I was originally going to post both outstanding series awards together, but decided that since it’s taking me so long, I was better off getting something posted just to remind anyone out there that might still be following that I wasn’t done yet. But this is the end, I promise. After all, I have another ongoing project that I need to get back to at some point. Plus, I should really finish this before it’s time to do an end of the year best of TV list (I’m only half kidding there).
To recap, here are the rest of this year’s winners:
Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series: Louis CK in Parks and Recreation
Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series: Judith Ivey in Nurse Jackie
Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series: John Lithgow in Dexter
Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series: Elizabeth Mitchell in Lost
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series: Nick Offerman in Parks and Recreation
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series: Merritt Wever in Nurse Jackie
Outstanding Actor in a Comedy Series: Jim Parsons in The Big Bang Theory
Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series: Amy Poehler in Parks and Recreation
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series: Elisabeth Moss in Mad Men
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series: Aaron Paul in Breaking Bad
Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series: Katey Sagal in Sons of Anarchy
Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series: Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad
Outstanding Comedy Series: Parks and Recreation
Outstanding Drama Series
The comedy group had a deeper pool of nominees this year, as so many great new shows deserved recognition. There wasn’t as many contenders in the drama field, but the top three or four shows on this list were the top shows on all of TV last year. Not because drama is automatically better than comedy, but because these are that damn good.
The nominees are…
Breaking Bad – After a solid first season, the show made a big leap to become one of the best shows on television in its second season. It’s hard to believe such an upward trajectory could be maintained, but it was when the third season became one of the best seasons in the history of television. Too bad we have to wait over a year to find out if it can continue that path (although since it would have to basically reinvent TV to keep getting that much better, we’ll probably have to settle for equaling its current level of quality).
Dollhouse – I’ll fully admit that this one is a little out-of-place and its presence betrays my Joss Whedon fandom. If I’d managed to see all of Justified in time, there’s a good chance it’d be here instead. But I wanted to recognize the second season of Dollhouse before it’s lost to antiquity forever (or am I too late for that too?). Certainly, it was a show with its flaws, but it managed something truly special with its second season. After the miserable ratings of its first truncated season, everyone involved read the writing on the wall, and used its unique production situation to give the series an epilogue in the never-aired “Epitaph One”. So imagine their shock when FOX gave them a second season.
After a couple half-hearted attempts at episodes designed to be entry points to the series, the show quickly realized that it would never get more than these bonus 13 episodes, and decided to squeeze three to five seasons worth of story into one half of a season. It was thrilling in an entirely unique way, as nothing was saved for the future and all avenues were open from a narrative standpoint. You never see a show this new behave like there’s no tomorrow, and the results were both exciting as a fan and fascinating as a follower of television. As the series came crashing to a halt, the question week in and week out was no longer “what will they do next?” and instead became “what WON’T they do next?”. It was pretty special, and will probably be a long time before we see anything that ambitious from a doomed show again.
Friday Night Lights – The hardest thing for a TV show to do is change, which is probably why so few ever really do. Once you establish a show’s characters and premise, viewers figure out what they like about a show, giving little incentive to change those things. And when some shows have attempted to make changes, they often didn’t work and mostly alienated their audience. Well FNL changed everything in season four, giving Coach Taylor a new team, saying farewell to beloved characters Matt Saracen, Tyra Collette, and Lyla Garrity, even turning the Dillon Panthers into the villains of the show. The result was a season as good as any of the previous three (of course, far superior to the second season), that still remained faithful to the core of what makes the series so appealing.
Lost – It may not have been a perfect final act, and I can understand those that had a problem with the finale (even if I’m not one of those people), but I still think on balance the final season was a success, both as a season of television and as the conclusion to one of the greatest series in the history of the medium. Your reaction largely depended on what kind of show you always believed Lost to be. If you followed it as a mystery to be solved, a work of science fiction that would eventually give some sort of plausible explanation for all you’d seen over the course of six seasons, then I can understand why you felt underwhelmed or even a bit betrayed by the finale. If, like me, you believed Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse when they said they were making a show about the characters who experienced the craziness of six seasons, then the last season was an immensely satisfying farewell to those characters and a reminder of what made this series special (while illuminating how empty all the Lost clones have been over the years).
Mad Men – After two seasons of universal adulation, the third season of Mad Men received the closest thing to criticism it’s gotten since the pilot when the instant reactions to the early season episodes showed a slight impatience with the slow plotting (as though the show had ever been plot driven). Most of those who made those claims rightly felt silly when it all came together at the end of the season and the reason for the rudderless feeling at Sterling Cooper was made clear. But it was still thought by many as a bit of a down season, enough so that the Television Critics Association left it off their list of Program of the Year nominees (an award they gave to Glee, so, whatever). I didn’t understand the impatience at the time, and I definitely didn’t understand the snub when I rewatched season three on blu-ray in the summer. If season three was a step down from the second season, it’s only in the sense that I consider Sgt. Pepper a step down from Revolver (that is, they’re both excellent, but I favour one slightly over the other).
Sons of Anarchy – The first season had some problems while it was figuring out what it wanted to be, but I still enjoyed it quite a bit. The second season had no such problems, and was consistently excellent enough throughout to join the rotating list of shows to hold the title “Best Show Currently on Television” (sure it only held the title from November 10th, following the Mad Men finale, to December 1st, its finale, but it held it). It starts off as horrifically as a TV series could (from a dramatic standpoint, not a quality one), and remains gripping throughout, finding surprising ways to resolve its most explosive plot developments.
The award goes to…
After narrowly losing this award to its network-mate Mad Men last year, Breaking Bad narrowly pulled ahead in its third season with what I already called earlier “one of the best seasons in the history of television”. Despite that, the only other person I know in real life (as opposed to this artificial online life we’ve built) that watches the show is my wife. Which is unacceptable. So allow me to use this space to present…
The Top 5 Reasons You Should Watch Breaking Bad
5. It’s not as grim as you might think – I’m not going to say that the show isn’t grim. It’s about a marginalized man recently diagnosed with cancer who turns to cooking meth in order to provide for his family before he dies. So, yeah, it’s grim. But it’s not relentlessly so. The are enough moments of black humour that at least one critic (Dan Fienberg) thinks it should be classified as a comedy. He’s wrong, but it does star the dad from Malcolm in the Middle and features Bob Odenkirk in the cast, so there’s plenty of laughs to break up the darkness.
More than that, Breaking Bad is one of the most exciting shows on television. Sure, it may be the result of the terrible choices of the cast and the grim world they inhabit, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s hard to feel too weighed down by the tone of the show when it constantly keeps your adrenalin pumping.
4. Think Coen, not Kohan – When I first heard of Breaking Bad, it sounded suspiciously like Jenji Kohan’s Weeds, but with a man and crystal meth instead of a woman and marijuana. Which made me a little dubious, as I’d already grown tired of all the suburban satire that’s been popping up, and didn’t think there’d be a lot of humour to be found in the dealing of one of the world’s most destructive drugs. Thankfully, neither did creator Vince Gilligan, as the show’s similarity with Weeds begins and ends with a protagonist involved in the selling of drugs. In fact, it’s difficult to think of any show that compares to Breaking Bad (I’d say the closest is The Wire, which should tell you something about how good Breaking Bad is).
Instead, a better comparison is the crime films of the Coen brothers, which often feature ordinary people who wind up being mixed up in the criminal world over varying sums of money and find themselves in over their heads. And I’m talking the elite films, like No Country for Old Men, Fargo, and Miller’s Crossing, not the cynical, barely-concealing-their-contempt-for-humanity ones like Burn After Reading or The Ladykillers. Wouldn’t you like to watch a new Coen brothers movie every week?
3. Come for the gripping drama, stay for the cinematography – Another way Breaking Bad reminds me of a Coen brothers film? The stunning cinematography that makes it the best filmed show on television. Set in the New Mexico, the show’s talented DPs never miss an opportunity to capture the brilliant southwestern vistas on display, resulting in a show that is as cinematic as television gets.
2. Find out why it has all those acting wins – In addition to the two awards I gave the show this year, Breaking Bad has won real acting Emmys every year its been on the air. Bryan Cranston has won Lead Actor for three years in a row, denying awards to some of the most heralded performances on TV given by Jon Hamm, Hugh Laurie, Michael C Hall, and Gabriel Byrne. Aaron Paul joined the fun by winning the Supporting Actor Emmy this past season. Don’t you want to see what all the fuss is about?
1. It’s the best show on television – I already called it the best show on television when I gave the award for Outstanding Drama Series. If I say something is the best, that means you should be watching it. Frankly, I’m a little insulted that you needed four other reasons. It’s not coming back until July 2011, so you have the time to catch up. Use it wisely.